How to open a bank account in India: A Full Guide [2022]

Looking for a smart way to manage your money when you relocate to India? Or maybe you need a simple way to hold and exchange INR? Opening an account with a traditional bank in India can be tricky if you’re not a resident – but the good news is that there are some alternative options available.

This guide runs through what you need to know about opening an INR account, including the documents you need, eligibility and the common costs. We’ll also take a look at how non-resident accounts from traditional banks stack up against modern alternatives, like Wise or Revolut.

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What documents do I need?

Let’s start with the basics. Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) and Overseas Citizens of India (OCIs) can open Indian bank accounts without being resident in the country. However, if you’re not a resident of India and you don’t fall into one of these categories you may struggle to open an account with a traditional bank.

The accounts available to NRIs, PIOs and OCIs are split into 3 types:

  • Non-Resident External Account (NRE)
  • Non-Resident Ordinary Account (NRO)
  • Foreign Currency Non-Resident Account (FCNR)

The documents you need to open a bank account in India will depend on your residency status. You can expect to be asked for:

  • Proof of identity (like a passport or ID card)
  • Proof of address (if you’re an Indian resident this is likely to be your Aadhaar Card, although foreign proof of address is accepted for some account types)
  • Proof of your status as an NRI, PIO or OCI (OCI or PIO card, passport, or birth certificate for example) if relevant
  • Some accounts require you to have a PAN card

If you are in India as a legal resident but don’t have all the paperwork outlined above, you may still be able to open what’s known as a small account. These are limited accounts which come with basic functions only, but which need little more than a signature to get started.

Now onto the tricky bit – getting an Indian account if you’re not an NRI, PIO, OCI or a resident of India. In this case the chances are that you won’t be able to open an account with a regular Indian bank. Instead you may choose an account from a specialist provider which offers a multi-currency account which can handle INR. These accounts are usually cheap, convenient and flexible – and can be opened from Australia without even needing to leave home. More on that, next.

 

Save the paperwork with alternative solutions like Wise or Revolut

Opening an account to hold and convert Indian rupees with a traditional Indian bank might be tricky if you’re not a resident. That’s where specialist services like Wise or Revolut can help.

Specialist online and digital accounts allow customers to hold and handle a range of currencies which can include INR. Depending on the provider you select you may also get an international debit card, low cost cross currency payments and more.

Open an account from a provider like Wise or Revolut from Australia, using your Australian documents and proof of address, to get an INR account almost instantly and without even leaving home.

Save with Wise Save with Revolut

How to open a bank account in India

If you’re eligible to open an account with a traditional Indian bank you’ll be able to do so in a branch or – sometimes – online. You may also be able to start your application online and then complete it by visiting a branch or talking to a member of service staff on the phone. Each bank has its own process for opening accounts – so it’s worth shopping around a bit to find the most convenient option for you.

Can I open a bank account in India before arrival?

If you’re an NRI, PIO or OCI you’re likely to be able to open a non-resident account with an Indian bank, which may be possible online or by mail prior to arrival. However, if you don’t fall into one of these categories you’ll probably need to open a resident account. That means you must have a local Indian proof of address, which is hard to get hold of before you’ve physically moved to the country.

Specialist providers like Wise or Revolut let you hold and exchange INR and can be set up from Australia before you arrive in India yourself. More on that coming up in a moment.

Which account is best in India for foreigners?

India has a huge financial sector, with many banks and a broad range of account options available. However, as we’ve seen, the rules about who can open different types of account are pretty strict and can make it hard for a foreigner to get an account without being present in the country.

Aside from old school banks, customers can also look at specialist financial technology companies. These tend to be cheaper and more flexible than traditional banks.

Let’s take a look at a few examples:

Service Wise Revolut State Bank of India HDFC
Currencies covered 54 currencies including INR and AUD 27 currencies including INR and AUD INR INR
Eligibility Residents of a range of countries, including Australia Residents of a range of countries, including Australia Foreigners in India can open a residents account; some non-residents can open NRO/NRE accounts Foreigners in India can open a residents account; some non-residents can open NRO/NRE accounts
Open before you arrive in India Yes Yes No NRI customers may be able to open remotely
Open online Yes Yes No Varies by account
Opening fee $0 $0 Minimum balance amounts apply – varies by account type Minimum balance amounts apply – varies by account type
Maintenance fee $0 Up to A$24.99/month Varies by account type Varies by account type
International transfers Low fee, varies by currency Fee varies by currency and payment value 10 USD + currency exchange markup for online remittance 500 INR – 1,000 INR depending on value of transfer

Traditional Indian banks could be a good option if you’re already in India with a valid proof of address document. If not, you may find a better deal with an online specialist provider. Specialists often provide more flexible multi-currency accounts which are cheaper and easier to open.

Wise

Wise is a financial technology company with a mission to make it easier and cheaper to send and receive international payments. 11+ million customers already use Wise to send money overseas, and for cheap and convenient multi-currency accounts.

Open a Wise multi-currency account online or in the Wise app from Australia, and you’ll be able to hold and manage 50+ currencies including INR. Currency exchange always uses the mid-market exchange rate with no markups, so you save significantly compared to using a traditional bank when you send a payment or shop internationally. You’ll also get a linked debit card, and local bank details for 10 currencies to get paid easily and with no fees from around 30 other countries.

Account types: Both personal and business customers can open a Wise multi-currency account with no minimum balance or monthly fees to pay. You just pay a low, transparent fee for the services you use.

Eligibility: Apply with proof of address from Australia to open and hold an INR balance. Full details of availability by location available on the Wise website.

Is it safe? Wise is regulated by ASIC, holds an Australian Financial Services License and is overseen by global bodies around the world.

Save with Wise

Revolut

Open and manage your Revolut account through the Revolut app, to hold and exchange INR as well as 26 other currencies.

Choose a free or fee paid Revolut account depending on the type of transactions you’re likely to make. Even free accounts have great features like some free currency exchange and a linked debit card. Extra benefits like lounge access and travel perks are available for customers who select the fee-paying account plans.

Account types: Standard account plans are free or you can upgrade to a paid plan for up to A$24.99/month.

Eligibility: Available to customers with addresses in the UK, the EEA, Australia, Singapore, Switzerland, Japan, and the US[10].

Is it safe? In Australia, Revolut is regulated by ASIC, and holds an Australian Financial Services License.

Go to Revolut
 

State Bank of India (SBI)

One of the largest banks in India, with a significant presence outside of the country. Unsurprisingly SBI has a full range of accounts and products for different types of customers. If you’re a foreigner working in India you’ll be able to open a domestic resident account. Non residents, students and visitors will need to choose one of the non-resident account options – your options will depend on whether you intend to pay income into your account, among other things.

Open your account by visiting a branch in India or overseas.

Account types: Full range of accounts for residents and non-residents. However, eligibility criteria are tight so not all options are available to all customers.

Eligibility: Non-residents have the option of an NRE or NRO account, or a foreign currency savings account. Residents have small accounts and regular bank accounts to choose from, but eligibility is based on a range of factors and varies by account type.

Is it safe? Yes. SBI is state-owned, established, and trusted around the world.

HDFC

India’s largest private sector bank, HDFC has branches in India and a number of other countries. Accounts are offered for non-residents and residents alike, subject to strict eligibility criteria.

Technically, NRI customers can open an account online without the need to visit a branch. However, this is subject to having a full range of documents which have been fully attested. Opening an account remotely may be easier if you’re already a customer of HDFC looking to open extra accounts.

Account types: Full range of accounts for residents and non-residents. However, eligibility criteria are tight so not all options are available to all customers.

Eligibility: Eligibility depends on your residence status; non-resident customers will usually need to be NRIs, PIOs or OCIs to qualify.

Is it safe? Yes. HDFC is one of the largest banks in India and is considered extremely safe and trustworthy.

What are the costs?

The costs associated with your Indian bank account can vary depending on the product you choose. Fee structures can be fairly complex so you’ll need to read your account terms and conditions carefully. Fees to look out for can include:

    • Monthly maintenance fees – or fall below fees
    • International payment fees
    • Foreign transaction fees when spending or withdrawing with your card
    • Overdraft fees
    • Credit card costs including cash advances and interest
    • Account dormancy or early closure fees

Specialist providers often offer more flexible accounts with no minimum deposit or monthly fees. You might also be able to access lower transaction fees, and a more intuitive user experience through online and in-app services.

Tips for transferring money

Sending money overseas with an Indian bank can include several different fees including third party charges and a markup on the exchange rate applied. Before you move your money, check out these tips:

  • Compare the exchange rate you’re offered against the mid-market exchange rate to see if a markup is being used
  • Review the terms and conditions of your specific account to see the transfer fee which will apply – often there are several different payment types which all come with different fees
  • Check if there are third party fees associated with the SWIFT network – these can push up the overall costs

Instead of sending your payment with your regular bank you might be better off sending your transfer with a specialist service like Wise.

Conclusion

The rules about who can open bank accounts in India are fairly complex, which means that if you’re not resident in India and you’re not an NRI, PIO or OCI, getting a traditional bank account can be tricky.

You may find it easier to open a multi-currency account with a specialist online service like Wise or Revolut. You’ll still be able to hold and exchange INR but you will be able to get set up easier with a 100% online application and verification process. You’re likely to also benefit from lower fees and better exchange rates compared to a regular bank.

FAQ:

  1. Can a foreigner open an account in India?

If you’re a legal resident of India, or an NRI, PIO or OCI you’ll be able to open a bank account in India. Exactly what process you need to follow will depend on your residence status. If you don’t fall into any of these categories, you’ll probably find it easier to open an online account with a specialist provider.

  1. How much do I need to open a bank account in India?

Some bank accounts in India have minimum deposit and minimum balance requirements. Others, including specialist services, may be completely free to open with no minimum  balance – compare a few providers to get the best deal for your needs.

  1. Can I open an Indian bank account online?

If you’re eligible to open an account and have a full set of attested documentation you may be able to open an account online with some traditional Indian banks. Alternatively, choose a specialist provider to open your account from home on your laptop or mobile device, with a more flexible verification process.

  1. Can I open a bank account in India before landing?

NRI, OCI and PIO customers may be able to open an account as a non-resident. Other customers are likely to have to wait until they can prove their legal residence in India. Instead, why not get a smart and flexible account from an online specialist service like Wise or Revolut instead.

 

By Ileana Ionescu Updated March 29th, 2022